By David Morgan and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a plan on Wednesday to reverse their self-imposed ban on earmarks: the practice of letting lawmakers add pet projects to spending bills, according to a source familiar with the decision.
The reversal comes ahead of various spending bills and an expected large infrastructure package sought by U.S. President Joe Biden that could be worth as much as $2 trillion over 10 years. Democrats who control the House have already reversed their own self-imposed ban on earmarks.
Republicans halted the practice when they took the majority in 2011 amid a string of controversies over earmarks.
“There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes. This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know ... about what should go in their district, not Biden,” Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters ahead of the decision being announced.
The decision now puts pressure on Senate Republicans to follow suit but also risks drawing criticism from the party's conservative wing, many of whom signed a letter on Wednesday saying they will not participate in the practice.
It also signals Republican willingness to negotiate on the details of a massive infrastructure package and the federal budget.
Earmarks are considered legislative "sweeteners" that Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, can use to dissuade members from defecting on major bills and attract votes from Republicans who otherwise may oppose a measure.
Earmarks became a hot campaign issue in the early 2000s after a long string of scandals in which lawmakers from both parties secured earmarks to enrich themselves.
When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they banned the practice. Urged by Democratic President Barack Obama, the Democratic-led Senate soon followed suit. Earmarks have been gone since.
Democratic lawmakers announced earlier this year that they were bringing back the practice, hoping it could solve a few issues, such as keeping their narrow majorities together on big votes, boosting vulnerable members’ re-election chances in 2022 and perhaps attracting Republican support.
(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and David Morgan; Editing by Franklin Paul, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)